It may be time for New York City FC to unleash 17-year-old James Sands.
NYCFC will play its second straight road match at 8 p.m. ET Saturday against the San Jose Earthquakes, and Sands is poised to debut in a starting role at Avaya Stadium.
Defensive midfielder Alex Ring remains sidelined for a second week after sustaining a knee injury on international duty with Finland. Ring was arguably the team’s most valuable commodity when they garnered all nine points in the opening three matches of 2018. Ghanaian Ebenezer Ofori received mixed reviews as the choice to fill the void for Ring in last week’s 2-2 draw at New England. The attribute Ofori lacked in the holding position is Sands’ strength – controlling the tempo of the match.
“Of course I was thinking about playing him [Sands] against New England,” Vieira said earlier in the week. “All the elements weren’t there for me to have him playing.”
Vieira suggested it was imprudent to select Sands due to the artificial turf pitch at Gillette Stadium and the physical nature of the opponent.
“I don’t think it was the perfect game for a young player to make his debut,” Vieira said
Sands inked the club’s first Homegrown contract in June and spent a large portion of last summer with the U.S. under-17s. He has appeared in just one match for NYCFC – as a sub for now retired Andrea Pirlo in a late September match at Colorado.
There is evidence Sands can withstand the pressures of a road environment. He was feasibly New York City’s top performer in an exhibition match at Emelec in Guayaquil, Ecuador during the 2017 preseason. With 40,000 supporters singing and dancing, it was the sort of atmosphere cherished by professionals. At the time, Sands was a 16-year-old trialist.
“It just confirmed how we already felt about him,” Vieira said following the match.
Vieira’s other lineup decisions
With David Villa’s return from a calf injury, Rodney Wallace back from international call-up with Costa Rica and Anton Tinnerholm recovered from an ankle injury, Vieira has challenging verdicts for his starting XI – especially with the emergence of Ismael Tajouri-Shradi as a reliable goal scorer.
Tajouri-Shradi started up top in the last two matches and was named to MLS’ Team of the Week after producing both goals in tie at Foxboro, Mass. Will Wallace be inserted to join Villa and regular Jesus Medina and leave Shradi on the bench?
Saad Abdul-Salaam recorded assists in each of the last two matches at right back in place of Tinnerholm while exhibiting superior defending skills in neutralizing NYCFC killer Justin Meram two weeks ago versus Orlando City. Who will get the nod?